Call for respect for the sovereignty of developing countries
The European Parliament publishes a report on the European Commission Raw Materials Initiative and reaffirms the sovereignty of developing countries in the current context of fierce rivalry amongst industrialised countries for access to their natural resources.
In November 2008, the European Commission adopted a non-energy Raw Materials Initiative, amended in February 2011 after a period of public consultation. This text defines a strategy for access to the natural resources that the European Union needs for industry. There is growing pressure on these materials, which are unequally distributed across the planet and yet essential for economic growth. The development of the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) reinforces both this trend and the competition between countries to share in these valuable resources. In addition, the completion of decolonisation and the loss of influence of Western countries in certain regions of the world where these materials are found are unsettling those seeking to protect their industries from any distortion of competition in the globalised market.
The Commission considers that competition in international markets is distorted by protectionist economic policies, including taxes and export quotas, and also by the strict environmental standards that govern prospecting and mining in European Union territory. These resources are currently vital for the development of non-polluting technologies and therefore for compliance with EU commitments under the Kyoto Protocol. This European policy pursues three priority objectives: guaranteeing fair and sustainable access to raw materials on world markets; ensuring long-term supplies within the European Union; and promoting the efficient use and recycling of resources. Civil society considers that this Commission initiative minimises the interests of the countries that produce the raw materials, focusing almost exclusively on European issues. This perspective is all the more paradoxical and incoherent as many of these countries are beneficiaries of European Union development aid. Although the Commission has taken into consideration some of the recommendations made by civil society in the second version of the text, it remains far from convincing in its current form.
The Parliament decided to make an announcement on this initiative by adopting an own-initiative report, on 13 September 2011, drawn up by the German MEP Reinhard Bütikofer of the Greens. Seeing that the MEPs have decided to tackle the theme through an own-initiative report, the Commission may decide to ignore it, or only consider part of it. But, even if this text is in no way binding, it still clearly defines the position taken by the majority of MEPs, thereby creating a sort of precedent on the subject.
This parliamentary report forms part of a trend towards rebalancing trade between the EU and countries that produce raw materials. Although it does not fundamentally challenge the frankly liberal orientation taken by the Commission in its initiative, it reaffirms the sovereignty of developing countries, their right to diversify their economies, to reduce their dependence on exports of natural resources and to increase their value-added through local processing.
The MEPs also stress the current lack of coherence between the objectives of European cooperation and development policies and the Raw Materials Initiative. They also call for greater control over the social and environmental impacts of projects supported financially by the European Investment Bank and would like to see a moratorium on subsidies for mining projects while waiting for appropriate rules on tax evasion, transparency and due diligence. They are also concerned about the lack of reference to respect for human rights and conflict prevention and call on the Commission to adopt European legislation similar to the American Dodd-Frank Act concerning ‘conflict minerals’.
Finally, on the eve of the new European Commission Communication on corporate social responsibility, the Parliament considers that European business enterprises should be legally responsible in their country of origin for violations of human rights, environmental standards and the basic labour standards of the ILO committed by their subsidiaries abroad and by the entities that they control.
In conclusion, the representatives of civil society welcome the collaboration with the Parliament during the adoption of this report, which is equivalent to a Resolution and moves towards greater social justice within and outside the European Union. We hope that the European executive will take these progressive proposals into consideration, especially in the new Commission Communication on corporate social responsibility and the review of the ‘Transparency’ and ‘Non-financial reporting’ Directives.
Translated from the original French